The VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM is a magical place. A place to discover things in. A place to get lost in. Housing one of the worlds greatest collections of craftsmanship, the place is filled with mankind’s treasures. It is one of my favourite and most often visited museums.
Today is different. I have come to see something special we have made. So it is with slight trepidation that I pass through the V & A’s imposing doors.
I was privileged to work here over twenty years ago when we cast some repairs to the Piccadilly’s Eros for conservator Andrew Naylor, who was restoring the whole fountain. I remember how thrilled I was to be taken to the museum warehouse in Battersea and led by the security guard through a labyrinth of racking, stacked with precious objects, rarely seen. The draw of a old wooden cabinet was pulled open to reveal Alfred Gilbert’s original plasters. Back at the museum I nervously moulded Eros’s standing leg. This piece of history entrusted to my then inexperienced hands. In the end we only cast an aluminium patch. Not much but enough to make me smile as I pass through Piccadilly Circus and enjoy my personal connection to Gilbert.
Europe 1600-1800 Galleries, Victoria and Albert Museum
The museum is vast and not knowing where our new work is located, I randomly roam around. With cabinets filled with wondrous distractions, I soon become lost. I decide to ask and am directed to the European Galleries. In the subdued light, surrounded by the most incredible and eclectic things I find our table. I am thrilled again.
“Activity Table” is not a concept you would naturally associate with this kind of museum. It’s a place to play a game, have some fun amongst the rare and precious objects; protected and out of reach inside their glass boxes. But this being the V & A this is no ordinary child’s distraction. It is of a quality in keeping with its surroundings. Specially commissioned as a permenant display the table is cast and fabricated in bronze from Lino patterns designed and hand cut by the artist /print maker Alexis Snell www.pickledink.com/alexis-snell
Her process involves literally carving the beautiful designs into blocks of Lino. This normally becomes the printing block. The bronze cast blocks take on the quality of back to front etching plates. Incorporated into the design are a globe, game of snakes and ladders and an iPad. Paper and crayons are provided to created a rubbing. I got chatting to a lady who was busy at the table, crayon in hand. As director of a museum in Italy and she was looking for ideas for her place and loved the concept.
A bespoke project of this quality involved the collaboration of a number of specialist crafts. The lettering was hand engraved onto the castings by David Thomas of Snooty Fox. www.snootyfoxjewellery.co.uk
The globe created by Chris Adams of Lander and May. www.landerandmay.com Engineer Peter Holman assisted us in the precision of the fabrication and the balancing elements of the globe stand. The construction of the supporting frame work and installation was down to Bob Jordan of Scena Productions. www.scenapro.com
A real coming together of skills, experience and care.
The table-top design is a carved tapestry of life itself, a paradise, cast into metal. There is a lot going on. I am happy to sit and enjoyed it. To run my hands over it and feel the textures; feel the flatness too. Not machine precision but a hand made, time consuming process of step by step dedication.
So much of the hand made things in this place are out of reach. There is a strangeness to this object which invites you to touch. It’s like you need permission to scribble on this art work and I cant help glancing around as if double checking it’s ok; that I am allowed.
My story all those years ago was of me the proud craftsman, striving to make the best mould I could, connected in a way to past craftsman I had read about and admired. I am not the craftsman now. This is the first time my hands have touch this bronze but I feel the work and dedication that made it. Now I put my trust in others; I am proud beyond words to have our work in this place.
I lay the paper on the bronze and create my rubbing. The dust from the brightly coloured crayons are already filling the inscribed lines on the surface. I am lost in the activity.
I am lost in the V & A.